Reflections on an Ordinary Christmas

[Originally written December 2017]

On the right, a Christmas tree. Old fashioned bubble lights mostly working, a couple of snowball lights already out, Hallmark ornaments galore. On the left, what can only be termed an eclectic Bethlehem. The nativity scene set up in the front, with an old school New England flower shop, a gasoline station, an observatory and a lighthouse surrounding it. Try not to miss the baby monitor in the foreground, and the Guatemalan doll hovering over the nativity. Yes, that is a Horton Funko Pop doll lurking in the background. Stockings hung behind all of it. Monogramed, of course — with a Doctor Who light string gracing the mantel. Like I said, eclectic. It will all be up through the Epiphany. For the unenlightened, that means January. The Christmas Season doesn’t end in this house until the Wise Men arrive (given this political climate it may be a while longer, and will, undoubtedly, be mostly women). The sun is shining in brightly, a little too brightly, straight into my eyes, through the window.

Outside, Husband is shoveling the snow — all single inch of it. OK, he’s really taking the dusting off of the cars and sidewalk and throwing down ice melt; not quite as glamorous. My eyes go from the keyboard to the baby monitor. The Kid is still asleep, breathing audibly on the monitor. Nap undisturbed. Memories of Christmases Past flood my thoughts.

“Para que quiero yo eso?” her words, sharp with disappointment cut right through me. The first gift I had ever purchased for my mother on my own; “what do I want that for?” I was six years old.

“There is no Santa Clause.” I was eight years old.

“Santa is down the block. We better get to sleep,” my cousin Norty said. I was 10 years old, he was nine.

The children’s table on the terrace of the house on 122nd Ave. My cousins. Uncle Norton’s loud laughter. I was 11 years old.

Coming “home” for Christmas: “Isn’t the tree beautiful? my mother asked. “Gorgeous,” I replied. The tree hadn’t been watered in weeks. It was dried out and a fire hazard. My parents were suddenly much older than I realized.

A short cry on the monitor and I’m back in the present. The Kid must be dreaming. I implement the pause, count to three, and wait. He settles back down. I water the Christmas tree.

The Christmas Season is a tough one to get through. It’s not because of the ghosts. They are always around — memories are always keen to remind you of your past; people are always ready to confront you with your present; and the future, we are told and hope, is always being molded. Christmas is tough because it’s known as “the most wonderful time of the year.” “Wonderful,” however, is a tough adjective to survive. Most words wither next to it. Think about it.

Even assuming perfection, who can survive wonderful? Can anybody really survive wonderful 24/7 for an entire season? The Hallmark Channel does its best with its annual affliction of nonstop Christmas movies. Pandora, Amazon Music, and Spotify each sport multiple Holiday music channels practically year-round. The Christmas creep starts earlier and earlier. This year I saw a store put Christmas decorations up before Halloween had passed — screw Thanksgiving. And, we are expected to keep up. Regardless of religion, regardless of politics, regardless of beliefs. I will be merry, I will be bright — whether or not I will be white is still up for debate (i.e. whether ethnicity and race are conflated).

Bah humbug. Wonderful is exhausting.

So, this year we aimed for ordinary. The decorations went up at some point. The cards went out. The Kid did not get a new Christmas outfit. We managed to make some gingerbread ninjas. And, Noche Buena was a semi-traditional Cuban delight. The Christmas Puzzle (a tradition we started last year — nothing like long-held traditions) is unassembled and in the box; so are the gingerbread houses, and gingerbread sweaters (overachieve much?). We saw Santa and got a picture; all three of us. Santa, two dads, and a baby. Classic. Ordinary.

As for all of the wonderful plans that could have been, they will have to wait. The journey, is not a race, it’s a stroll. We’re in no hurry to get to the destination. And, if we race, we would certainly race by moments like this:

On Christmas morning, at all of 18 months, The Kid doesn’t distinguish Christmas Day from any other day of the year. He looked at the Christmas tree with all of the presents Santa had left and registered, in a word: nothing. We coaxed him into unwrapping his packages — engaging him in the fun of destroying paper. This, of course, he thoroughly loved. With every rip and every tear, he let out a squeal of delight and began spinning like a whirling dervish.

It was wonderful.

One comment

  1. Beautiful memory Alex. Here with your 4 mos. old namesake. She exchanges delighted nonsense syllables with me and stares at the tree…after all…lights. How to slow down these moments?

Leave a Reply